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Donald O'Connor

Actor and dancer Donald O'Connor, who wowed audiences with his "Make `Em Laugh" number in the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, died Saturday of heart failure at a retirement home in Calabasas, CA; he was 78. Born to a family of vaudeville performers, O'Connor joined the family profession as an infant and made his film debut at age 11 in the movie 1937's Melody for Two, dancing alongside two of his brothers. Juvenile roles and more vaudeville work followed, and in 1942 he signed on for a number of low-budget musicals for Universal. O'Connor gained a measure of cinematic fame and success as the human star of the first Francis the Talking Mule film, and went on to make five sequels opposite his animal co-star. His show-stopping role in Singin' in the Rain came in 1952, where he played wry musician Cosmo Brown alongside Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. When it came to the now-legendary "Make `Em Laugh" number, O'Connor said he choreographed his pratfalls and acrobatics by seeing what made two female assistants on the set laugh the most; word had it he spent three days in bed after filming the number. Other films in the 50s included I Love Melvin, Call Me Madam, There's No Business Like Show Business and Anything Goes. O'Connor won an Emmy in 1954 for his work on The Colgate Comedy Hour and starred in three different versions of The Donald O'Connor Show. In his later years, O'Connor devoted his energy to composing concert music and making nightclub and stage appearances; he appeared briefly in both Ragtime and Toys and a number of television shows in the 80s and 90s. Always handy with a one-liner, O'Connor saved one of his best for last . according to his family's brief statement, among his last words were, "I'd like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get." O'Connor is survived by his wife, Gloria Noble, and four children. --Prepared by IMDb staff